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NEW ORDER ARE 'THE WORLD'S MOST SALEABLE CULT BANO'. HOW, AND WHY, HAVE THEY MAINTAINED THEIR STATE OF INDEPENDENCE IN THE FACE OF CORPORATE TEMPTATION.
FILED IN A CABINET somewhere in the-North of England - or maybe just deep in the imagination of one of its signatories — there lies a piece of paper which effectively proclaims: "New Order owns the music and Factory owns nothing". It is signed by two significant people. One is Rob Gretton, New Order's manager since they were Joy Division. The other is Tony Wilson, Mancunian motor mouth and media mole, a man with a head full of concepts and a telephone in his car. Pray silence, seekers after knowledge, Mr Wilson is about to hold forth:
"In 1977, when I was a journalist doing TV programmes about it, I thought that independent record labels were about not being a nursery for the majors. But by 78, when I had my own label, we u>erf a nursery. Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark? Oh, great record, we'll pur it out. Oh yes, who's interested? Phonogram? Oh, right, here's Virgin . . . you have them. Same with Joy Division or New Order, 1 thought. But it was Rob's idea, without even telling me, to sit back and say to himself; 'I don't have to sell myself to anybody ."
Mr Wilson considers his audience. It comprises myself, and the New Order quartet: Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner (formerly Albrccht, once Dicken, and God knows what else), Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert.
Earlier, a gathering of local theatre goers had departed from the bar of the city centre's comely Royal Exchange complex to breathe in the rush of the greasepaint. But they might have learnt more out here. Mr Wilson has "some business" to do, and he's gathered up his case and raincoat ready to dash. But there's just one more thing . . .
"When we'd got Factory going, (Richard) Branson took me out once, and he said Tony, I'd like to sign this and that, and maybe your overseas rights', and whatever. 'How much do you want for it?' And 1 said, 'I have absolutely no idea, in fact, I have nothing to give, cos Factory doesn't oum any of the music, so it has no value'. Branson says, 'Alright, let's make it easy. How much do you need?' And I said, 'Richard, I don'c need anything.' And he said, 'OK, let's jusc finish the meal and enjoy ourselves. There is no point us talking, cos I can't buy you. Unless you need money, we are not going to do any deals.' You see, it's only when you need money that you have to start signing things away."
And the thing about New Order is that they've never needed money, in a manner of speaking, that is ...
NEW ORDER ARE ARGUABLY the most saleable cult band in the world, or as Tony Wilson likes to put it, "you are the biggest band that hasn't made it". Count up the contemporary acts with proven records of commercial success who've not placed themselves wholly in the hands of one of the major entertainment conglomerates and you may only require the fingers of one hand: UB40, Depeche Mode, and, incongruously in this company, the glittering house of Five-Star ... and New Order.
Worldwide, the audience for New Order's albums - of which the newly released 'Brotherhood' is the fourth — now numbers three to four hundred thousand and covers all the main international territories, plus Poland (from whence they are unable to extricate their profits), New Zealand and Ireland. Together they have furnished the quartet with two gold discs for I.P sales.
"Blue Monday", the single they released as a 12-inch only back in 1983, is now reputed to be the biggest-selling product of its kind of all time. Nearly a million copies have been bought around the globe and at the time of the conversation reproduced here, it has occupied the British independent singles top 50 chart for 181 consecutive weeks, and the Gallup top 200 singles chart for 130 weeks. "It is," says drummer Morris with his favoured richly ironic inflection, "the Sound Of MMSIC of independent singles."
It is "Blue Monday"s achievement which gives us the most striking clue to the nature of New Order's longevity, something they have attained without engaging in the wholesale embrace of corporate mores and monolithic power. Here is a disc which has sold steadily and solidly since its first appearance in the shops. Like the group themselves, it tapped immediately into a reservoir of knowing grass roots support, and has consolidated it ever since. Cash registers rang thanks to audience loyalty and word of mouth rather than advertising campaigns, videos or other mechanisms of hype. "Blue Monday" has exhibited a staying power which few would have thought possi-
"BLUE MONDAY", SAYS DRUMMER MORRIS, IS THE SOUND OF MUSIC OF INDEPENDENT SINGLES"
glowing tribute to New Order's ability to make their autonomy work on a financial as well as an artistic level.
"When we started out as Joy Division, we got into a position where we were doing loads of gigs," recalls Peter Hook; "and that's all we'd ever wanted to do. We just wanted to play the songs that we'd written. So when the time came to put out the Joy Division LP, we never really thought about going with a big label, it never crossed my mind. But Rob said, 'Why don't we let Tony do it?' Because we would get a much better deal off Factory. A 50/50 deal, rather than what we could have got with Martin Rushent's Genetic label (through WEA), which was offering us £35,000 upfront or whatever — which we thought was an absolute fortune, but we were only gonna get a royalty of 8%. So, it was £35,000 and 8%, or 50 per cent and it won't pay us anything yet. But, we've got plenty of gigs, we decided, so we can live ... we just thought we'd take a chance."
Wilson explains that this half and half split on profits after costs is the basic deal struck with all Factory acts. In practice, he says, this scores over the advance system favoured by the majors — whereby vast sums are loaned against future royalties to underwrite an act's expenses for their first piece of product - because a group of New Order's popularity can manage happily on their regular level of sales, whereas 300,000 albums worldwide would leave many a major signing in debt. It just means they have to wait longer for their pay cheques.
"Normally what happens when we record is that immediate living expenses we can provide ourselves," explains Hook; "and then the arrears, which is the studio, tapes and so on, is paid for by Factory. They arc billed for everything."
formal isat ion of their business status only came about once a UK distribution deal was arranged with WI-A, who won't put their name to anything until you've put yours to something else. Previously, New Order (and Joy Division) had been a partnership of equals with nothing set down on paper, and an unwritten get-out clause binding both the group's personnel and their collective relationship with Factory Records - meaning if you don't like it, get out.
According to both sides, this remains the Spirit of their relationship, one which affords New Order complete control over everything from output to artwork. Or, as Hook puts it, "together, we can do anything we want. If we want to do a special sleeve, like we did for 'Low Life', we can. if you said to Tony, 'let's make every I.P sleeve out of cut glass,' he'd say, 'it's a great idea, we'll investigate and see if we can do it. Of course," he adds, "in America they wouldn't even entertain the idea of a special sleeve. They didn't even understand why we wanted to release 'Blue Monday', cos it wasn't on the IP!"
The inertia of US sales conventions apart, it is via such lucrative overseas shopfronts that New Order and Factory have been able to exploit their mutual co-operation to the full. Gretton has negotiated licensing (rather than recording) deals with a bunch of different companies around the world, thus enabling New Order's output to reach an international public relatively uncorrupted.
In Japan, they are signed to the CBS outpost Nippon Columbia, a contract which enabled them to spend some time recording in Tokyo last spring. "State Of The Nation" (one side of their current hit 12-inch) was the result. Meanwhile, EMI have them for Ireland, Warners for Brazil, there is a faintly mysterious (to the band, at least) connection with Factory Zimbabwe, and in America, New Order records arc released through Quincy Jones* Qwest imprint: another offshoot of Warner Brothers, but an interesting one — the Mancunians are the label's only white act.
BECAUSE OF THIS TAPESTRY OF separate deals, all of them dependent on the signature of Wilson as theoretical license holder, ther£ is a buffer between the valuable commercial clout of these conglomerates, and New Order's artistic independence, something which their manager seems to cherish as much as the group.
Gretton, it seems, leaves his very singular trademark in whichever comer of the earth his machinations take him. The Land Of The Free, unsurprisingly, finds him most extraordinary of all. "The funniest thing I've ever seen with Rob was with our first meeting with Warner Brothers," Hook recalls. "They threw a little reception for us in LA. It was so embarrassing. When Rob got in there he found the only chair in the place, sat down in the corner of the room on his own and lit up this dope pipe. Everyone's
understand it at all." "Gretton is amazing with these people," agrees Wilson. "Over thcte, I'm his chauffeur, right:* I drive him round from meeting to meeting, and make sure he arrives on time. Then I do half an hour's glad chat with big Dave Gcffen and all that, I listen to their Bob Dylan story or the one about Frank Sinatra. Anyway, Gretton sits there and all of a sudden he'll come out with something that just destroys them. There was one meeting, and one of these guys says, 'Have you got any questions. Rob?'' and he says 'Yeah, I'm a bit worried abour your company, you know.' He'd got all rhis background out of Muttc Week or something about them being bankrupt and some office being re-arranged, and suddenly they're all apologising to him: 'Well, we had to redecorate the office in New York Mr Gretton, that's why we moved those people out. We're not teally going under!* It really floored them. They just turned to chalk,"
THE Four Folks of New Order told me I should speak to their managerial legend if possible, even though "you won't get any sense out of him". And so, the following day 1 made contact with a man possessing the least gung-ho telephone manner I have ever encountered. Confirming the reciprocal trust he enjoys with his charges, Mr Gretton said that Gainwest's biggest cash problems had been with the taxman, since getting monies owed from pre-Warners distributors Rough Trade and Pjnnacle was a long-winded process. Bur that he harboured few regrets about staying independent, and that further to this, he was the driver of an Audi 200 Quatro.
For aflcianados of an outfit not unknown for a certain sternness in their art, this is an important derail. Cars are a matter of some
consequence in New Order circles, being one of their few areas of conspicuous material self-indulgence. Hook, the prime enthusiast, touts a Toyota. Bernard, or Barney as he's known, sports a Ma^da, Steve a Volvo, and the quiet, but attentive Gillian, a Fiat. Apparently there is some kind of cult surrounding the concept of central locking. No n-possess ion of this facility instantly negates membership of a near-masonic private language.
Barney hopefully offers the preposterous lie that each New Order member has invested in a nuclear missile with their names on the side — which gives you some idea of what sort of chap young Bernard is. In fact, New Order's company profits go partly on wages, maintaining a road crew and updating the band's equipment,
The other big investments have been in Peter's sixteen track studio in Rochdale, and most of all, in Manchester's most celebrated nightclub, the Hacienda.
This has been the most troublesome draii on Gain west finances since its inception ir 1981. Barney, Gillian, Steve and Peter pu> up much of rhe initial investment an< maintain their financial interest. Gretron meanwhile, is one of its directors, anc although they feel the place has alway< worked well as a breeding ground for I oca! talent, the Hacienda has not always paid it; way. It was during the slump periods thai Wilson's Factory enterprises really could have done with a large injection of someone else's cash.
For New Order rhemselves, the Hacienda's crisis phases were unhappy, but had the effect of bringing them closer to the arena of business than they'd come before. The lessons they learned were, perhaps, vital ones for others trying to survive in an independent record sector hit by fading fashionabilicy and a tendency to implode due to lack of utilitarian vigour.
"I think what our experiences with the Hacienda taught us," says Bernard, "was not to work with friends, but work with professionals. Don't just get someone you know to do a job. Get someone who you know is going to be good at that job. The big criticism of Factory that I used to make was that a lot of groups that were on it, and a lot of people that worked there, were acquaintances. It turned out that they were nice, but they didn't do a good job."
On the other hand, unconventional business ideals can be made to work in practice with benefit to both its instigators and the people of your locale. It no longer matters much that everyone said the Factory method was the purest madness. Peter Hook's observation seems apposite here: "Our accountant says, 'If it works, it's alright' •
Last updated on 2005-03-07 9:50:00 PM - 9:50:00 PM
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